Agree? “I Sometimes Feel Like I Have a Brain Issue Around Understanding How Long Things Will Take Me.”

Interview: Laurie Berkner.

I have Twelve Personal Commandments, and the first commandment, and the most important, is to “Be Gretchen.”

In some ways, it makes me sad to “Be Gretchen,” because it means admitting my limitations. And one of my limitations? I don’t have much appreciation for music.

I mean, sure, I like a song here or there, but I don’t have the passionate interest and enjoyment of music that so many people have. On the upside — more time to read!

That’s why it’s all the more surprising that I love the music of Laurie Berkner.  Her band is the Laurie Berkner Band, and she has lots of terrific albums, she regularly appeared on Nick Jr. and Sprout, she’s written children’s books, she gives huge concerts, and so on.

She’s best known as a writer and performer of music for children, but I love her music as an adult. She has many songs I love.

In The Happiness Project, in a discussion of why children boost happiness, I wrote:  “Left to my own devices, I wouldn’t…pore over Baskin-Robbins cake designs, memorize Is Your Mama a Llama?…I wouldn’t watch Shrek over and over or listen to Laurie Berkner’s music…Nevertheless, I honestly do enjoy these activities with my children. I don’t just enjoy their pleasure…I also experience my own sincere enjoyment of activities that I would otherwise never have considered.”

So here’s the beauty of Twitter. Laurie Berkner herself tweeted me a message! Saying how much she liked The Happiness Project and that she got a kick out of seeing her work mentioned.

I was so excited. I went running to my family and said, “You’ll never guess who just sent me a message on Twitter!” They were very impressed.

I actually got to have coffee with Laurie Berkner, and of course, ply her with questions about her habits. I was dying to hear what she said.

Gretchen: What’s a simple habit that consistently makes you happier?  

Laurie: Going to the farmers’ market on Sundays to drop off our compost and buy food for the week.  I like saying hi to all of the people who sell there, running into friends, knowing I put a little less garbage into a landfill and discovering what is in season. It’s my treat to myself whenever I’m not working on a Sunday morning.  Plus, we make it into a family affair when everyone is home.  We even bring our dog, Winston.

What’s something you know now about forming healthy habits that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?

That I’m much happier forming habits for myself than for someone else. Also, that I am often not very good at forming habits in a long term way.  It takes a lot of work for me.  I start with good intentions, enjoy them, but I often lose track of the things that make me happy.  It’s as if I forget the effect they have on me, and I only remember those good feelings once I convince myself to do them again. It’s also easier to convince myself now that I’ve had many more years to experience how good the good habits can feel—I can at least recall them intellectually.

Sometimes I even use images to remind myself.  For example, going to sleep before 11 pm is very challenging for me. Recently I’ve been able to do it pretty consistently for one of the first times I can remember. I remember visiting my brother and sister-in-law a few years ago (they are both great at getting to bed early), and I saw her climb in bed, pull the covers up to her chin, and close her eyes with a look of pure contentment on her face just before she called out “goodnight!”When I find myself putting off getting in bed, I conjure up that image of my sister-in-law and it helps me remember how good I feel once I pull the covers up and am lying down myself.

Do you have any habits that continually get in the way of your happiness?

Misjudging time. It sometimes feels to me as if I have a brain issue around understanding how long things will take me.  I never leave enough time for things that will take a while, and I leave too much time for short tasks. It also means I’m late, a lot.

Which habits are most important to you? (for health, for creativity, for productivity, for leisure, etc.)  

It’s funny, while being creative is really important to me, I don’t have a lot of habits around it. I just tend to be creative when I feel like it. But habits are really important for me for my physical and emotional health. Exercising, getting enough sleep, eating well, spending time outside and in nature, meditating (that I one I have the hardest time maintaining), are all really important habits for me. Actually these habits all help everything I do. They help my health, my creativity, my productivity, my happiness, and my relationships.

Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger? 

I took the test on your site and it said I was a Questioner.  I wasn’t at all sure what it would say I was.  I feel like I can see myself dip into Rebel and Obliger as well.

Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits? (e.g. travel, parties, too much performance)  

It’s funny, traveling when I’m performing actually often helps me keep my healthy habits.  I make sure to go to bed early, I don’t snack before bed, I make time to practice, and I get things on my to-do list done that I’ve been putting off. I think being away from home and not feeling the pressure of all the things I do as a mom makes me feel like I have more time to do things that I would otherwise squeeze out of my schedule.

And the thing that interferes with my ability to keep healthy habits the most is when I have a lot going on at work. It spills into my personal life and time.

Do you embrace habits or resist them?  

Hmm, I’m not really sure.  I think I resist them more than I embrace them – but I’m drawn to the idea of having good habits.  It just seems like there is never enough time for all of them.

Has another person ever had a big influence on your habits?

Yes.  I had a therapist for almost 20 years who taught me a lot about making time for myself.  It helped me enormously in feeling okay about making time to cook my own meals, see an acupuncturist and a chiropractor regularly, and take the time I need in order to finish projects and feel good about them.

How do you feel about answering questions about habits?

Strangely stressed out.  I feel aware of how hard it is for me to stay consistent in most areas of my life.  I feel like I keep habits in phases.  I will loyally do something for a period of time, then I’ll forget about it and start doing something else loyally for the next period of time and then find a third and maybe a fourth thing and then rediscover the first one and start all over again.

What are you currently working on?

I have a new double album out of traditional kids’ songs called Laurie Berkner’s Favorite Classic Kids’ Songs.  In early 2016, I’m launching an online training of my “me and my grown-up” type curriculum for music teachers called Laurie Berkner’s The Music In Me.  You can hear me talk about ways to incorporate music into daily family life every day on SiriusXM’s Kids Place Live with “The Music In Me Minute.” I’m also making new videos every month on the Official Laurie Berkner Band YouTube page, we have a very active Facebook page with fun crafts, and I’m always performing and would love for people to know about my shows and come see them! People can sign up for our fan list at www.laurieberkner.com to be notified about performances in their area and anything else I’m up to.

Determined to Keep Your 2016 New Year’s Resolutions? Here’s How.

I love making New Year’s resolutions. Yes, January 1 might be an arbitrary date, but I think it’s good that we all have a cue to ask ourselves, “What would I like to change about my life? How could it be better than before?”

Most of us have a list of things we’d like to do better — and very often, those things involve habits. Exercise, sleep, fun, eating, relaxing, and so on.

In my book Better Than Before, I list all twenty-one strategies that we can use to make or break the habits that shape our lives. All the strategies are powerful and effective, but some are more universal than others. Here are some of the most popular ones, to start you thinking.

1. Be specific.

Don’t resolve to “Eat more healthfully.” That’s too vague. What are you really asking of yourself? Resolve to “Eat breakfast,” “pack a lunch,” “stop eating fast food,” “cook dinner at home,” or “no more sugary soda.” That’s the Strategy of Clarity.

I did this with reading. I love to read, but I wasn’t spending enough time reading. So I resolved to “Quit reading a book I don’t like” (which changed my life), “Do ‘study’ reading on the weekend,” and I also monitor my reading — see below.

2. Monitor your resolution.

If we monitor something, we manage it much better. Just simply tracking how much you are — or aren’t — doing something will push you in the right direction. That’s the Strategy of Monitoring. With reading, I’ve started to post a photo on my Facebook page every Sunday night to show what books I’ve read that week. I find this very fun and satisfying, and I have to say, it also helps me push myself to find more time to read.

3. Figure out your Tendency.

There are Four Tendencies: Upholders, Questioners, Obligers, and Rebels. Take the quiz here.  This is the Strategy of the Four Tendencies.

4. Give yourself external accountability. 

Now that you know your Tendency, if you’re an Obliger, to keep a resolution, give yourself external accountability. This is key. Tell other people about your resolution, work out with a trainer, take a class, do something with a friend, hire a coach.

Or start a Better Than Before Habits Group, where people hold each other accountable. Everyone can be working on different resolutions — what matters is that they’re holding each other accountable. To get the “starter kit” for people launching an accountability group, request it here. This is the Strategy of Accountability.

Note: the Strategy of Accountability can also be helpful to Upholders and Questioners — but it’s often actually counter-productive for Rebels.

5. Treat yourself!

This is the most fun way to strengthen your resolutions. When we give ourselves healthy treats, we boost our self-command — which helps us keep our resolutions. When we give more to ourselves, we can ask more from ourselves. But make sure they’re healthy treats. Food and drink, shopping, and screen time are often unhealthy treats. This is the Strategy of Treats.

6. “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”

Thank you, Voltaire.  If you break your resolution today, try again tomorrow.  Try to use your slip-up as a lesson in how to do better next time. Although some people assume that strong feelings of guilt or shame act as safeguards to help people stick to good habits, the opposite is true. People who feel less guilt and who show compassion toward themselves in the face of failure are better able to regain self-control, while people who feel deeply guilty and full of self-blame struggle more. This is the Strategy of Safeguards.

7. Sign up for the 21 Days, 21 Strategies for Habit Change.

To thank people who pre-order the paperback of Better Than Before, I’m giving them this email package for free. Each morning for twenty-one days, I’ll send you an email that describes a different strategy that you can harness to master your habits. If you’re determined to keep a New Year’s resolution this year, I hope you’ll get lots of ideas about how to do that.

What else? What are some strategies you’ve discovered, to help you stick to your New Year’s resolutions?

Podcast 42: Act the Way You Want to Feel, Consider Giving Up a Temptation, and I Manage to Get Back to the Gym.

It’s time for the next installment of  “Happier with Gretchen Rubin.

Update: I hold Elizabeth accountable for pondering her YA novel.

And loyal sister that she is, Elizabeth gave a plug for the paperback of Better Than Before, which comes out December 15.  To thank people who order early, if you do pre-order, you get the “21 Days, 21 Strategies for Habit Change” email package for free. But act fast. Info here.

Even more news! Elizabeth and I are doing our first live recording of the podcast! If you’re in the Bay Area, January 21, Brava Theater, we hope to see you there. Info and tickets here.  We’ll have two excellent guests, and some special little treats, plus you get a copy of Better Than Before with your ticket.

Try This at Home: Act the way you want to feel. Want to know all my Twelve Personal Commandments? Look here.

Better Than Before Habit Strategy: We’re working our way through the twenty-one strategies for habit change that I discuss in Better Than Before. In this episode, we talk about the Strategy of Abstaining (which we’ve talk about before, for instance, in back episode 2, but we keep hearing from listeners about it).

Listener Question: “What’s the line between freeing yourself from an obligation that’s become counter-productive versus quitting something prematurely, that you ought to stick with?”

Elizabeth’s Demerit:  Elizabeth hasn’t had her hair cut and colored for months.

Gretchen’s Gold Star: In episode 41, I gave myself a demerit for not going to the gym. This time, I get a gold star for switching gyms; I used the Strategy of Convenience to join a gym closer to my apartment, and I have in fact started to go to the gym again.

Happier with Gretchen Rubin #42 - Listen at Happiercast.com/42

As always, thanks to our terrific sponsors

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Happier with Gretchen Rubin #42 - Listen at Happiercast.com/42

How to Subscribe

If you’re like me (until recently) you’re intrigued by podcasts, but you don’t know how to listen or subscribe. It’s very easy, really. Really.  To listen to more than one episode, and to have it all in a handier way, on your phone or tablet, it’s better to subscribe. Really, it’s easy.

Want to know what to expect from other episodes of the podcast, when you listen toHappier with Gretchen Rubin?” We talk about how to build happier habits into everyday life, as we draw from cutting-edge science, ancient wisdom, lessons from pop culture—and our own experiences (and mistakes).  We’re sisters, so we don’t let each other get away with much!

HAPPIER listening!

 

My Sister Elizabeth and I Will Record an Episode of Our Podcast–Live! San Francisco, January 21.

My sister Elizabeth and I are so excited. We’re doing a live event for our podcast, Happier with Gretchen Rubin.

If you live in the Bay Area, we hope to see you there! it will be a very fun evening. Please come, bring your friends, help spread the news.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Brava Theater

2781 24th Street, San Francisco

7:00-8:30 p.m.

More info and buy tickets here. Tickets are $40, and with that, you get a ticket to the show, a copy of my paperback Better Than Before, and admission to a book-signing party afterward. Elizabeth and I also have a few little surprises to hand out (we couldn’t resist).

So please come. We’d love to meet you — we’re really looking forward to being able to see listeners while we’re recording. We have two fascinating, hilarious guests lined up, and we’ve thought of a fun, unusual segment, to take advantage of the fact that we’ve got an actual live audience. (But don’t worry, we won’t do that thing where people are picked randomly out of the audience. That always makes me so tense.)

Bonus: our delightful producer Henry Molofsky, who has been featured in a few episodes, will also be there.

We’ve been thrilled by the success of Happier. We’re getting very close to five million downloads. Yowza.

Hope to see you on January 21!

5 Quick, Easy Habits that Have Actually Strengthened My Relationships.

When people think about changing their habits, they often think of the diet-and-exercise family of habits.

Also, as much as I personally love habits, I know that many people associate habit-change with having to make a lot of effort.

But habits don’t have to take a lot of time or energy to form, and they can help us with any aspect of our lives. I have to admit, even now, after spending years thinking about habits, I’m astonished by how much a truly tiny habit can boost happiness.

For instance, here are some examples of a few quick, easy habits that I’ve adopted to strengthen my relationships. They’re all practically effortless, they all make me happier.

These kinds of habits are particularly helpful to me, because the truth is, I can get lost in my own head, and become so focused on crossing something off my to-do list that I neglect to make time to connect with the people who are most important to me. In the tumult of everyday life, I find it all too easy to overlook what really matters.

So I’ve made these habits:

1. I kiss my husband first thing in the morning, and I kiss him last thing at night.

It might sound silly to schedule kisses — but for me, if it’s on the calendar, it gets done, and if not, not. That’s the power of the Strategy of Scheduling!

2. Our family gives each other a real “hello” and “good-bye” every time one of us comes or goes.

When our two daughters were little, they’d greet me and my husband with wild enthusiasm whenever we walked in the door, and often cried miserably when we left. Then we went through a period when barely looked up from their own games or homework or books when we walked in or out — and I was a major offender in this area, myself. So we made a family resolution to “Give warm greetings and farewells.”  For instance, instead of letting my older daughter yell, “I’m leaving” before she disappears out the door to go to school, I call, “Wait, wait,” and hurry to give her a real hug and a real good-bye.  As a consequence, each day, several times, we have moments of real connection among all members of our family. (Want to read more about this? Check out my book Happier at Home.)

3. With my parents and sister, I do “updates.”

This was my mother’s idea. We’ve all noticed that when you see people all the time, you have a lot to say to them; when you talk to them more rarely, it’s easy to fall into a “What’s new?” “Not much, what’s new with you?” type conversation. So the four of us do “updates.” Every few days, we send an email with the subject line of “update,” we give the most basic details of what we’re doing, and we rarely reply to each other. Our motto is “It’s okay to be boring.” Elizabeth and I discuss it here. We’ve heard from so many people who have started this habit!

4. Before my daughters go to bed each night, I spend some time with each girl, holding her in my arms and talking about her day.

It’s interesting: growing up, my family wasn’t at all demonstrative, and I never thought about it, or doubted that my parents loved me. But my family now is super lovey-dovey. Which I very much enjoy. I like having a habit that means that I get some time, each day, to be close both physically and mentally with each of my daughters — a time that’s just for the two of us.

5. I send an email whenever there’s any possible reason to congratulate or compliment a friend.

I used to be very lax about this, but now I make it a very deliberate habit to reach out whenever I have an excuse. For instance, I walked by a friend’s townhouse the other day, and it had a gorgeous arrangement of pumpkins–so I sent an email. A friend’s book got an award, so I sent an email. These little gestures make a difference, over time.

The thing is, we have can have the very best of intentions — but never get around to giving that good-morning kiss or sending that friendly email.  And that’s where habits can help.

Habits are freeing and energizing because they get us out of the draining, difficult business of making decisions and using our self-control. When something’s important to us, and we want it to happen frequently, making it into a habit means that it does happen, and without a lot of fuss.

What habits have you adopted, that have strengthened your habits?

To get more ideas about some helpful habits to follow, and even more, to get ideas about how to change your habits, check out my (bestselling) book, Better Than Before. Everything is revealed! It turns out that it’s not that hard to change your habits — once you know what to do.